The oil industry in Nigeria is stepping forward again this year, in support of the Lagos Book and Art Festival (LABAF), the largest culture picnic in Africa and the continent’s most invigorating feast of the written word.
The 20th edition runs from November 5 to 11, 2018.
The most avid supporters have been Pillar Oil and the Niger Delta Petroleum Resources, two Nigerian independents.
They have both backed the Festival for Eight of the last 20 Years. Pillar has been particularly generous this year. So has Marine Platforms, a growing oil service firm which was first invited last year. It has come across as the most enthusiastic of the new backers. Energy & Mineral Resources, a subsurface evaluation firm, has also been helpful.
The theme of this year’s festival is Renewal: A World That Works For All, a subject that is inspired by the need to reflect on the possibilities of shaping the country into a capable state, as the nation’s democracy turns 20 and the sixth general elections in the Fourth Republic are about to hold. The 10 core books, lined up for conversation over the course of the weeklong Festival, reflect, in various ways, ideas of nation building.
This initiative to strengthen the foundations of Nigeria as a literate society has also been supported, in the past, by Lekoil, a London listed Nigerian operator.
Neconde E&P, which weighed in with its backing in 2015, Midwestern Oil and Gas, which gave significant financial support in 2013 and Esso Exploration Nigeria, the deepwater subsidiary of ExxonMobil in the country.
Hosted at the Freedom Park, site of an old colonial prison renovated into scenic grounds incorporating an art gallery, an auditorium, a museum, food court, amphitheatre and concert space, LABAF runs two parallel programmes; (1) the Adult programme involving discussions around books, book exhibition and fair, visual art display, poetry slam and musical performances, film screenings and art stampede and (2) a workshop-heavy, interactive Youth programme catering to young people between the ages of 9 and 16.
LABAF’s proposition to Nigeria’s leading oil explorers is to use the event to bolster their image as companies keen on the idea of rejuvenating the culture of book reading and engagement with ideas.
Nigeria is home to 170Million people and part of LABAF’s raison d’être is to convert as many as possible of this number into true human capital.
The Festival encourages oil companies to bring young people from the communities where they operate to participate in the Festival’s youth programme, which involves three days of literacy and literary exercises, art and craft workshops, mentorship and book reviews.
Outside these corporate brands, a number of selfless individual oil workers back the Festival in a significant way; by donating the books that are then sent to reviewers and discussants who make up the panels in the several readings and discussion segments which constitute LABAF.
Dickson Okotie, a consultant Early Production Facility (EPF) engineer, shipped in 10 books in 2013.
Bashir Koledoye, a former Chevron geologist who now owns a geoscience consultancy firm named D’Harmattan, bought copies of nine books in 2014, donated money for books in 2015 and in 2016 delivered six copies of three books (two for each) including The Yacoubian Building by Alaa Al Aswany, Terrorism and the Politics of Fear by David Altheide, and The Spirit of Terrorism, by Jean Baudrillard.
In 2014, Caritas PR, a reputation management company focused on the industry, founded by Dayo Ojo, an ExxonMobil “alumnus”, ordered fifteen copies of both the French scholar Thomas Picketty’s hefty tome: Capital in the 21st Century and Dambisa Moyo’s How The West Was Lost, for review and conversation at the Festival. A year after, Caritas donated copies of Joe Stiglitz’s new book: The Great Divide, Unequal Societies and What To Do With Them.
In 2015, Shell geologist Kehinde Olafiranye shipped in 20 copies of books, including Tom Burgis’ The Looting Machine and Ari Shavit’s My Promised Land for the purpose of two sessions at the 17th LABAF.
The earliest donors of books to the Festival included Layiwola Adeniji, a Chevron Nigeria communications specialist and Adedoja Ojelabi, former President of the Nigerian Association of Petroleum Explorationists (NAPE) as well as Femi Aisida, a former Petroleum Engineer with Shell, each donating upwards of 20 books for three consecutive years between 2011 and 2013.
LABAF organisers are encouraged by this show of support for the finer elements of human civilisation by companies and individuals whose jobs involve the old fashioned business of extracting fossil fuels. “This tells us something”, says Jahman Anikulapo, programme chairman of the Committee for Relevant Art (CORA) and the Festival Director, “The Lagos Book and Art Festival is an important event and we will keep driving it”.
Toyin Akinosho, publisher Africa Oil+Gas Report and Secretary General of CORA, organisers of LABAF.